Becoming the Pearl-Poet: Perceptions, Connections, Receptions edited by Jane Beal, PhD

Becoming the Pearl-Poet:
Perceptions, Connections, Receptions

edited by Jane Beal, PhD

Who is the Pearl-poet? How do ideas about his life and interpretations of his poems shape our understanding of his work in late-medieval England—and beyond? In Becoming the Pearl-Poet: Perceptions, Connections, Receptions, readers can explore the world of this extraordinary, fourteenth-century writer. In Part I, “Perceptions,” five scholars give insightful literary analyses of the narrative poems attributed to the poet: Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and St. Erkenwald. In Part II, “Connections,” six scholars examine connections between these diverse poems, focusing on authorship, ecology, material culture, sartorial adornment, shields, and the poet’s pastoral theology. In Part III, “Receptions,” scholars consider the illustrations of the Pearl Manuscript (British Library MS Cotton Nero A.x), the poet’s cultural situatedness in the Northwest Midlands and Ricardian court, his religious contexts, later translations and paraphrases of his work, and his medieval and modern audiences. Intended for students and scholars alike, this book encourages readers to gain a deeper understanding of the Pearl-poet and his world, learning many new things and enjoying old things in a new way.



Introduction: Becoming the Pearl-Poet, Jane Beal

Part I: Perceptions

Chapter One: The Dreamer’s Contemplative Experience of a Mappamundi in Pearl, Jane Beal

Chapter Two: Temperance and the Evolution of Concupiscible Vice in Cleanness, Corey Owen

Chapter Three: “Þay ar happen also þat con her hert stere”: Virtue and Nautical Metaphor in Patience, M. W. Brumit

Chapter Four: The Failure of Perfection in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Mickey Sweeney

Chapter Five: St. Erkenwald, Michael D.C. Drout, Jonathan B. Gerkin, and Scott Kleinman

Part II: Connections

Chapter Six: Authorship: What Does the Pearl-Poet Tell Us About Himself?, Ethan Campbell

Chapter Seven: Ecology in the Pearl-Poet, Elizabeth Allen

Chapter Eight: Material Culture of the Pearl-Poet, Jonathan Quick

Chapter Nine: Sartorial Adornment in the Pearl Poems, Kimberly Jack

Chapter Ten: Switching Shields in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Kristin Bovaird-Abbo

Chapter Eleven: The Pastoral Theology of the Pearl-Poet, Grace Hamman

Part III: Receptions

Chapter Twelve: The Illustrations in London, British Library, MS Cotton Nero A.x (part 2), Joel Fredell

Chapter Thirteen: The Northwest Midlands and the Ricardian Court, David K. Coley

Chapter Fourteen: Religious Contexts for the Pearl-Poet, Nancy Ciccione

Chapter Fifteen: Translations and Paraphrases, Kenna L. Olsen

Chapter Sixteen: Audiences, Medieval and Modern, John M. Bowers


About the Contributors


PEARL edited, translated, and commented upon by Thorlac Turville-Petre


Excerpt from the “Translation Pearl?” blog post of Professor Turville-Petre:

My own translation is not intended to stand alone but is an attempt to offer a basis for the accompanying commentary that explores the poetic techniques and the semantic range of the poet’s vocabulary. For example, in Section XVI the poet characterises the spotless purity of the Lamb in the Heavenly Jerusalem:

         Þe Lompe þer wythouten spottez blake

         Hatz feryed þyder hys fayre flote,

         And as hys flok is wythouten flake,

          So is hys mote wythouten moote.

A literal translation of this runs:

         The Lamb without spots of black has carried his fair company to that place, and 
         just as his flock is without fleck, so is his city without blemish.

But this gives only a superficial and impoverished account of the meaning of this passage which the poet expresses through acoustics, word-play and verbal association. In the first of a pair of lines alliterating on /f/, feryed is echoed by fayre, and flote links up flok in the next line, in turn introducing the pararhyme flake, preparing us for a synonymous phrase in the refrain line with its word-play on mote / moote; though both are pronounced like modern ‘moat’, they are of different origins meaning ‘castle’ and ‘stain’ respectively. The heavenly mote, to be described later in the poem, is thus inherently unstained by sin. No translation can capture this, nor can it highlight the wider significance of the passage in the poem as a whole. As the link-word in this section, mote is used repeatedly in both its senses, and ‘wythouten moote’ is synonymous not only with ‘wythouten flake’ in the previous line, but also with ‘wythouten galle’ in the first stanza of this section, and ‘wythouten spot’ in the very first section of the poem. Together with other synonyms such as spotlezmotelez and masklez, these phrases carry through the poem the underlying theme of the need to be without the stain of sin in order to approach heaven.

It’s clear, then, that the translation has to be read in conjunction with the commentary, and I shall reckon it a success if it serves to send readers, thus equipped, to the text itself with increased understanding and appreciation.

_PEARL: A Middle English Edition and Modern English Translation_ by Jane Beal

UPDATE: After a delay earlier this year, this new book can now be shipped for those ordering hard copies! Enjoy.


I’ve waited for many years to be able to announce my NEW BOOK: Pearl: A Middle English Edition and Modern English Translation, which is now available from Broadview Press! Although the book is printed, it can’t currently be shipped because it is on lockdown in a warehouse due to the world-wide coronavirus pandemic. It can, however, be pre-ordered! 🙂 The e-version, I believe, is available now, too.

Beal - Pearl - Cvr Design (website image)


Pearl is an exquisitely beautiful, fourteenth-century, Middle English dream vision poem. In it, a man falls asleep in a garden mourning the pearl he lost, and when his “spirit springs into space,” he finds himself in a bejeweled landscape, where birdsong begins to comfort his heart, and he comes to a stream, across which stands the young woman he loved: his beloved Pearl-Maiden, dressed in white, crowned with a pearl-crown, and wearing the “perle of prys” on her breast, standing beneath…

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Calls for Papers – ICMS May 2020

The International Pearl-poet Society is sponsoring six sessions at the 55thInternational Congress on Medieval Studies (May 7-10, 2020) at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI.

1)         Form and Structure in the Cotton Nero A.x. Manuscript (Roundtable)

Beyond tightly structured narratives and precise poetics, Cotton Nero A.x. contains diverse material from 12 illustrations and marginalia to ornate initials. Recent scientific and technological advancements from pigment analyses to multispectral imaging have begun to reframe our understanding of these paleographic details. Building on analyses from scholars like Murray McGillivray and Christina Duffy (2017) and Piotr Spyra (2014), this session invites participants to reconsider the connection between the intricate paleographic and narrative forms of this dynamic manuscript.

2)          “In aventure þer mervayles meven”: The Mystical Tradition in the Pearl-poet and Analogues

In Pearl, struggles to comprehend and accept the ineffable, torn by his overwhelming grief and attachment to the material world. This tension recurs throughout the Pearl-poet’s works and has fascinated scholars from Nicholas Watson (1995) to Cecilia A. Hatt (2015) as they explore the poet’s relationship to, and understanding of, the Church. Renewed critical attention to movements like the medieval mystics calls for a reexamination of the poet’s other religious influences, so this session will explore the intersection of the mystical tradition and the works of the Pearl-poet and analogues.

3)         The Pearl-poet: Modern Connections, Adaptations, and Evolutions

As one of the more prominent poets from the fourteenth century, the Pearl-poet continues to captivate audiences with his nuanced and timeless narratives, inspiring centuries of writers and artists. This session will explore the resonances and continued relevance of this prominent poet’s work in modern renderings, films, stage productions, and other media.

4)         Acceptance and Resistance: Emotional Tension in the Pearl-poet

From a distraught Dreamer and a wrathful, anthropomorphized God to a petulant prophet, the Pearl-poet’s characters are often complex figures struggling not just in morally complex situations but also with tumultuous emotions. Some find peace with their experiences while others remain besieged by or succumb to their inner demons. This session will delve into how the poet’s complex characters resolve or resist their deep emotional turmoil.

5)         The Final Frontier: Embodied Space in the Works of the Pearl-poet

The Wilderness of Wirral, a green woodbine, a bejeweled stream, the Green Chapel. Well-known for intricate spatial descriptions, the Pearl-poet often uses these locations as the focal points of significant human experiences, forging an intimate connection between mental and physical environment. This session will explore the spaces and places in the Pearl-poet’s works and what they reveal about the characters who inhabit them.

6)         Ain’t Misbehaving: Medieval English Women Who Do Good Work by Nefarious Means

Co-sponsored with MAM

Christian or social/patriarchal desires often dictated rules of best behavior for women, but, likely influenced by medieval English women’s actual behavior, narratives often require female characters who step well beyond such boundaries. These discrepancies open up meaning for the texts being analyzed while providing insight into gender relations within and beyond their constructed narratives.

We invite abstracts from scholars of all levels. Papers may deal with one or all the poems by the Pearl-poet. Paper sessions will consist of either three 20-minute or four 15-minute presentations; all paper sessions will afford at least 30 minutes for discussion. As lively conversation and collaboration are key goals, the pedagogical roundtable can accommodate up to six participants presenting for 7 or 8 minutes, with approximately half the session reserved for discussion.

Please send your abstract (max. 300 words) and the completed Participant Information Form ( by

01 September 2019 to

Ashley E. Bartelt

Northern Illinois University

Department of English, Reavis Hall, Room 215

1425 W. Lincoln Hwy.

DeKalb, IL 60115-2828




CFP: May 2019 International Congress on Medieval Studies – Sessions on the Pearl-Poet / Gawain-Poet

International Pearl-Poet Society
Call for Papers — ICMS 2019

The International Pearl-Poet Society is sponsoring six sessions at the 54th International Congress on Medieval Studies (May 9–12, 2019) at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI.

1)     Is there a class in this text? Teaching the Pearl-poet (Roundtable)

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight has long been a mainstay of Brit Lit surveys and introductions to medieval literature. However, the recent anthologising of Pearl, both in the Middle English and in translation, and the rise of pedagogical interest in vernacular religious traditions such as those exemplified by Cleanness and Patience, calls for a fresh appraisal of classroom strategies for approaching these texts.

2)    Visual Rhetoric in the Works of the Gawain-poet

From the description of shining, jewelled New Jerusalem to the blazons of Sir Gawain and the Pearl-maiden to the Pearl-dreamer’s inability to ‘see’ clearly, the Gawain-poet reveals himself to be a writer who depends on visual metaphors, imagery, and motifs. Seeking to renovate earlier work by Sarah Stanbury (1991, 2007), Maidie Hilmo (2001), and Tony Davenport (2008), this session will explore the ways that the poet deploys motifs of sight and seeing to shape the meaning of his texts.

3)    Gender and Engendering in the Works of the Pearl-poet

Morgan le Fay, Hagar and Sarah, Lady Bertilak, the Pearl-maiden, Lot’s unnamed wife and daughters, Queen Guinevere. Shrinking Gawain, wayward Jonah, ‘beardless’ Arthur, the gentle Jeweller, the Green Knight with his half-giant chest and shoulders to match. Housteholds hoping for heirs; kingdoms that shall never know one. The Pearl-poet presents a broad spectrum of gendered characters. This session invites participants to consider how the poet plays with tropes of gender in the Cotton Nero A.x poems and St. Erkenwald.

4)    Beyond the Codex: Extraliterary Influences on the Texts of the PearlManuscript

The Pearl-poet was, without a doubt, widely read. But what other cultural ‘texts’ and contexts influenced his poetry? How did architecture, the liturgy, political upheaval, religious debates, economic anxiety, international affairs, and epidemic outbreak weigh on mind of the poet as he composed his works?

5)    Fifty Shades of Green: Hagiography and Demonology in the Pearl-poet Corpus

Between the celestial city and the shady Green Chapel, the miracles of a London bishop and the Leviathan-underworld in the belly of a sea beast, the works of the Pearl-poet explore the full range of the divine and the infernal. The papers in this session will interrogate the poet’s use of hagiographic tropes as well as material from folk traditions as he crafts his supernatural narratives.

We invite abstracts from scholars of all levels. Papers may deal with one or all of the poems by the Pearl-poet. Paper sessions will consist of either three twenty-minute or four fifteen-minute presentations; all paper sessions will afford at least thirty minutes for discussion. As lively conversation and collaboration are key goals, the pedagogical roundtable can accommodate up to six participants presenting for seven or eight minutes, with approximately half the session reserved for discussion.

Please send your abstract (max. 300 words) and the completed Participant Information Form by

15 September 2018 to

Benjamin Barootes
Pontifical Institute of Mediæval Studies
59 Queen’s Park Crescent East
Toronto, Ontario
Canada    M5S 2C4

APPROACHES TO TEACHING THE MIDDLE ENGLISH PEARL edited by Jane Beal and Mark Bradshaw Busbee

My co-edited volume, Approaches to Teaching the Middle English Pearl, is now in print from the Modern Language Association.



The moving, richly allegorical poem Pearl was written in Middle English by the anonymous who likely also penned Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In it, a man in a garden, grieving the loss of a beloved pearl, dreams of the Pearl-Maiden, who appears across a stream. She teaches him the nature of innocence, God’s grace, meekness, and purity. Though granted a vision of the New Jerusalem by the Pearl-Maiden, the dreamer is pained to discover that he cannot cross the stream himself and join her in bliss—at least not yet. This extraordinary poem is a door into late medieval poetics and Catholic piety.

Part 1 of this volume, “Materials,” introduces instructors to the many resources available for teaching the canonical yet challenging Pearl, including editions, translations, and scholarship on the poem as well as its historical context. The essays in part 2, “Approaches,” offer instructors tools for introducing students to critical issues associated with the poem, such as its authorship, sources and analogues, structure and language, and relation to other works of its time. Contributors draw on interdisciplinary approaches to outline ways of teaching Pearl in a variety of classroom contexts.

Table of Contents

  • With many thanks to my co-editor, our editors at the MLA, and all of our contributors!

CFP – International Pearl-Poet Society – ICMS 2018

Call for Papers – ICMS 2018

The International Pearl-Poet Society is sponsoring three sessions at the 53rdInternational Congress on Medieval Studies (May 10-13, 2018) at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI.

1) Postcards from the Edge: Boundaries & Liminality in the Gawain-poet (paper session)

Hailing from, and possibly writing in, the Northwest Midlands, the poet of the Cotton Nero A.x poems was acutely aware of the tensions between the centre and periphery. Like Gawain venturing forth from the warmth of Arthur’s court to wander the Welsh marches, this session explores the role and function of the outside, the edge, and the in-between in the works of the Gawain-poet.

2) Play & Performance in the Pearl-poet (paper session)

This session moves beyond the critical discussion of ludic elements in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to take a more broad approach to play and performance in the poems of Cotton Nero A.x and St. Erkenwald. This wider scope allows for investigations of the poet’s interest in word games, competing voices and discourses, and the role of courtly entertainments in and for the poems.

3) A Readers’ Theatre of the Gawain-poet (performance session)

This session offers participants a chance to indulge in the texture of the poet’s rich language in the original Northwest Midlands dialect. We welcome monologues, dialogues, and performances by many voices. Please indicate the names of participants and the section of the text you will be performing.


We invite abstracts from scholars of all levels. Papers may deal with one or all of the poems by the Pearl-poet. Paper sessions will consist of four fifteen-minute presentations with thirty minutes. We ask participants in the Readers’ Theatre to limit their performances to twenty minutes maximum.

Please send your abstract (max. 300 words) and the completed Participant Information Form ( by 15 September 2017 to

Benjamin Barootes
Centre for Medieval Studies
University of Toronto
125 Queen’s Park Crescent
Toronto, Ontario
M5S 1A1 Canada